Pakistani court overturns Christian's death sentence for blasphemy

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Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday (Oct 31) overturned the conviction of a Christian mother facing execution for blasphemy in a landmark case which has incited deadly violence and reached as far as the Vatican.

"The appeal is allowed".

The judgement has sparked a backlash from hardline Islamists who have called for the death of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and two other judges behind the ruling.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar announced the verdict to a packed courtroom and ordered Asia Bibi released.

Lawyers, who did not want to speak on the record, noted that although the supreme court had at last taken a stand, the after-effect of the trial would serve to encourage lower courts to pass the weakest cases of blasphemy up to the apex court.

Bibi's case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated.

Supporters of Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), which was founded to support blasphemy laws, immediately condemned the decision to overturn Ms Bibi's conviction and blocked roads in major cities, pelting police with stones in the eastern city of Lahore.

After hearing the arguments, the top court reserved its judgment on Bibi's appeal.

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Bibi's lawyer Saiful Mulook told AFP: "The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings". The women had said they could no longer use a cup from which Bibi had had water, because of her religion.

But the verdict will anger those opposed to any change to the blasphemy law in Pakistan, which carries a mandatory death penalty.

The women went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, a charge punishable by death under colonial-era legislation. The law does not define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.

No one has ever been executed in Pakistan on blasphemy charges even though dozens have been jailed or extrajudicially killed, at times, in mob lynchings.

Supposedly her final appeal hearing on October 13 was meant to wind up the most high profile case of the country, however, it was delayed as one of the judges refused to be a part of the three member bench that was to hear the case.

It has been a case of high-tension from the outset, with Salman Taseer, a Punjabi governor who supported Ms Bibi, gunned down in broad daylight by his bodyguard in Islamabad in 2011.

Mr Taseer had also called for Ms Bibi's release.

However, on 7 October, Ashiq Masih, Bibi's husband, said his wife was "spiritually strong" and "ready and willing to die for Christ", adding that she will "never convert to Islam".